In the Dallas/Forth Worth metroplex — one of the most aggressive and competitive markets for HVACR distribution in the country — is a small distributor that knows how to win. In business since 1959 and operating out of four locations with a staff of 40, AC Supply Co. of Fort Worth has succeeded because it takes care of customers while exploring new opportunities to grow its sales.
Randy Boyd is the president and CEO of AC Supply, which his father, Bill, founded in 1959. (He is also president-elect of HARDI.) While Randy leads the company, he gives the credit to his employees for the company's success over the years. “I've got the best people, by far, in the industry,” he says. Employees are passionate about doing right by the customer. This has created strong ties between the company and its customers, with some relationships lasting for decades. Boyd also attributes the company's success to its early investments in technology, which have allowed it to remain on the cutting edge of supply management. “This has given us the capabilities to look like a bigger company than we actually are,” he says.
When Bill Boyd began AC Supply (then known as Air Conditioning Supply) in 1959, he was at the forefront of a new age in air-conditioning. Residential air-conditioning was just beginning to take off, and the Dallas/Fort Worth region was just beginning to grow into the major metropolis that it is now. “When my dad started off, the only thing he had to sell was insulation,” Boyd explains. Before he started his company, Boyd had worked his way up from truck driver to sales manager at Tersco. “He sold insulation during the day, rolled and wrapped it at night, and then delivered it the next day.” From those humble beginnings, AC Supply grew into a HVACR distributor that now stocks HVACR parts and supplies for more than 75 manufacturers.
While the company has had branches in locations as far away as Wichita, KS, Tulsa, OK, and Lubbock and Dallas, TX, it now maintains four locations in the Fort Worth area. “Over the years, we found it best that we pull our horns back in and take care of what we knew we could take care of,” Boyd says. All four of its locations are within a 60-mile radius. Traffic delays are a mainstay of life in the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex, so location is key. Customers are rarely more than 10 minutes away from any AC Supply. They run six delivery trucks out of all four locations, and replenishment occurs daily from the main warehouse. All told, AC Supply has approximately 80,000 square feet of space.
It's the technology that ties all of the branches together. Today, the company is virtually paperless, and customers get invoices daily by either fax or e-mail. AC Supply first invested in a computer software program 40 years ago. “It came down to the fact that we needed a better way of doing things; so we were able to join with another wholesaler, and the two of us built a software package,” Boyd recalls. While the computer software may seem antiquated by today's standards, AC Supply was in uncharted territory at the time, using computers to run a more efficient distribution system.
Today, the company relies on Enspire, a Windows-based software package, to handle everything from purchasing to invoicing. “It's given us the opportunity to make everything run smoother,” says Boyd, who cites the technology as something that has set his company apart from his competitors. “It's made a huge difference. Some of our decisions that we've made in the technology have been very beneficial and have made us unique in the marketplace.” The branches have real-time information about inventory, and the branches are able to make purchasing decisions online through the central office. The Fort Worth warehouse restocks branches daily.
Indeed, AC Supply's technical edge has made it one of the more sophisticated distributors in the industry. Its online catalog, which is available on a password-protected site on the AC Supply website (www.acsupplytexas.com), is among the most comprehensive in the HVACR distribution industry. AC Supply will soon be adding the HARDI Catalog Builder to its web site, which will allow it much more flexibility in creating, printing and distributing catalogs, and updating product and pricing information for customers.
But technology still does not replace the human element. Boyd meets every Friday with his branch managers, salespeople and the office/credit manager. This is where they have an opportunity to just talk about where they're going and the challenges that they have. Among the biggest challenges faced by Boyd — and any company president/CEO — is personnel development. The managers play a large role in facilitating the growth of their employees. There is also an emphasis on continuing education, including HARDI's Home Study Institute and manager and sales development training. “I'm a firm believer in lifelong learning,” Boyd says. “It's something that you have to believe in to be successful. You don't know it all.”
Because Boyd prides himself on running a lean and mean organization, AC Supply employee assignments include multiple duties. “Everybody wears more than one hat,” he says. So many of Boyd's employees have been with the company for so long, they more than likely have held other positions within the company. “We're fortunate in that most of the people running the company today started out as warehouse people or truck drivers,” he says.
Boyd is particularly proud of a recent addition to the AC Supply staff: his son, Bryan, who handles purchasing for the company. “I'm very proud to be the second generation, and I'm very excited about my son coming into the business. I'm looking forward to the third generation taking over and putting his passion into the mix,” Boyd says.
With technology that keeps the business side running smoothly and employees who are actively involved in satisfying their needs, it should come as no surprise that customer satisfaction with AC Supply is very high. Customers tell AC Supply that the reason they do business with the company is that they became frustrated with other supply houses in the area. In some cases, other distributors kept the customers waiting at the job sites for delivery orders. In other cases, it was incorrect orders or discrepancies in the invoicing. All of these always result in costly delays for customers.
Those problems are few and far between at AC Supply because they pay attention to details. More importantly, when there is a problem, AC Supply takes responsibility for it and fixes it right away. “I think the customer feels it almost immediately that the employees of AC Supply do care,” Boyd says. Customers also know that they have access to the president if a problem persists. “I answer my phone,” he says. When away, he has confidence in his managers to make decisions for him. “I've got a great group, and I've empowered them to do whatever they feel needs to be done.”
This accessibility comes with being a family-owned HVACR distributor. And it has been an important differentiator from other supply houses that rely solely on price to gain business in the market. A local, family-owned distributor like AC Supply can react more quickly to a customer's needs — whether it's providing a quick turnaround on delivering a product to a job site or providing a little bit of expertise. AC Supply boasts employees who, collectively, bring hundreds of years of HVACR experience to their jobs. AC Supply considers itself far more agile than the competition, a key to its success.
AC Supply also must face the challenges that come with being in a market where HVACR manufacturers often unload parts and supplies at below-cost prices. Boyd refers to the Texas market as the “dumping ground of the world.” That creates a mentality for selling on price alone. “There's a whole mentality for selling lots of stuff and selling it cheaply,” Boyd says. “We compete with that on a daily basis, but it's nothing that we can't handle. As long as we're watching our overhead, we can compete with the best of them.”
Over the years, AC Supply has been able to expand its market. While AC Supply originally catered to residential contractors, it now counts virtually all types of construction including hospitals, school districts, laboratories and manufactured housing among its customers as well. AC Supply's four salespeople continually work with their accounts to find new ways in which they can add value to the relationships even as they develop new customers. AC Supply understands that there's virtually an air-conditioning contractor under every rock in Texas. This is why they propagate the philosophy of asking contactors for their business and letting them know that AC Supply is a wholesaler who cares and is interested in their success.
Even though AC Supply has been a presence in Fort Worth for almost 50 years, plenty of facilities managers and contractors still do not know AC Supply and what it can offer them. At a recent pancake breakfast that AC Supply hosted for school districts, Boyd said there were administrators who were unfamiliar with the company. It reinforced the need for the sales staff to reach out and touch as many contacts as possible. “You just never quit looking,” he says. As he travels among the branches, Boyd says he is always writing down names and phone numbers on contractor trucks that he spots on the road. “I'll hand it to a salesperson and say, ‘go sic 'em.’ It's not rocket science, but it does take dedication and some passion.”
Boyd says he attributes much of his passion to his association through the years with HARDI. Now, as HARDI's president-elect, Boyd says his exposure to other HVACR distributors across the country has provided him with invaluable learning opportunities that continue to this day. “I have never gone to a HARDI meeting where I didn't come back with more ideas than I could ever put into place,” he says. “The involvement with HARDI has been invaluable to our success.”
Boyd always returns to his employees as the source of AC Supply's longevity in such a crowded and competitive marketplace. Boyd and his managers continually reinforce to employees the importance of meeting goals. After all, complacency is what can easily bring down any business. “We have to continue to develop people and be the best at what we can be — not get lazy,” Boyd says. While other distributors have folded or sold out to larger chains, Boyd says the passion possessed by him and his employees is helping to move the company forward. “We're planning on being here,” he says.
Michael Maynard is a business writer based in Providence, RI. He writes frequently on HVACR, construction and architecture issues. Contact him at [email protected].